By Ben Fisher
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and a quick Google Image search of “William Wesley” reveals plenty about the man who could play a major role in shaping the NBA landscape in the coming days.
Wesley is shown to be the guy behind the star. Here he is trying to corral Ron Artest before his ill-fated march into the stands of the Palace at Auburn Hills, there he is attempting to gain the attention of LeBron James. He is the background figure, the proverbial “man behind the curtain”. But while the focus is on the NBA superstar, the small, unassuming Wesley may be the one who’s really in charge behind the scenes.
Here’s what we know for sure about the near-mythical individual widely known as “Worldwide Wes”. A New Jersey high school hoopster in the early ‘80’s, Wesley forged a friendship with future NBA’er Milt Wagner that ultimately led to networking opportunities where he got to know basketball luminaries like Michael Jordan. Thanks to his smooth-talking nature (he had previously worked as a shoe salesman and would later function as a club promoter) and powerful MJ connection, it didn’t take him long to gain a reputation as a respected voice to young players with plenty of questions. He has since joined into a sports agency partnership at Creative Artists Agency (CAA) with long-time friend Leon Rose, which has allowed him to represent some of the many NBA stars who heed his advice.
What’s missing in the previous paragraph is any job title or official role which he has within the sport, a major clue as to how he has remained virtually anonymous while existing as a power broker within a league filled with millionaire superstars. Even as he has the ear of many NBA’ers and can be found –provided you look closely – at every major league event, Wesley exists on the fringes. If a player needs a custom-made suit, he knows a good tailor. If a player has a big gambling debt, he can smooth things out. Quite simply, he knows how to make things happen.
Wesley’s strange aura as an invisible but influential force is further enhanced by some of the curious stories that leave you trying to separate fact and fiction in a fleeting attempt to grasp a true sense of just who this guy is. Is he really a close confidante of the Clintons? Is Spike Lee actually making a movie about his life? ESPN’s Bill Simmons tells the story of encountering ‘Wes’ late one night during this year’s All-Star Weekend. When a young player (who Simmons declined to name) eagerly looks to pursue another nightclub around 2:45 am, Wesley profoundly tells him that he “cannot chase the night” in a benevolent, zen-like way.
With all the vagueness and uncertainty surrounding just who he is and why he holds influence, Wesley has his share of detractors. After all, a supposed influence that extends back as far as high school prep players offers plenty of opportunity for impropriety. His presence at the college level has linked him with Memphis coach John Calipari, a man not exactly unfamiliar with NCAA rules violations. Following the Artest melee, Reggie Miller openly wondered what this guy was doing on the court and why he was getting involved.
Wesley’s alleged power lies in this dual role as both a player agent and player mentor. It seems hardly a coincidence that many of CAA’s top NBA clients – James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony among them – can be counted among the 45-year old’s inner circle. If he holds the sway that he is rumoured to have with those first three men, he could go a long way in putting his fingerprints upon the very make-up of the NBA heading into next season.
After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that Wesley is suggested to have pulled some strings in his role as a major background player. When James let former agent Aaron Goodwin go in 2005 in order to sign with Rose and CAA, Worldwide Wes seemed to be behind the move. There are some who even feel he was involved in the New York Knicks’ surprising first round selection (21st over-all) of Renaldo Balkman in the 2006 Draft, a decision – as the suspicion goes – made due to Balkman’s pre-existing ties to CAA.
If Wesley has any thoughts on where members of this year’s elite free agent class should land, rest assured that many will listen. Such is the power of the mysterious man known as Worldwide Wes.